My first home is haunted. Sometimes I see my parents carrying my stroller over the pebbles onto a pathway between two tall palm trees, up three steps, and through our front door. Sometimes I see my face pressed against the window, pigtails high up on my head fastened by red bobbles, watching my dad move out. Once I watched a cordial interaction between my mother and father as they traded me, their daughter, from one set of hands to another for a weekend visit after the divorce.
I drive by the familiar architecture of my past every chance I can. When I am in a hurry, a quick turn of the head suffices, but if time allows, I stop the car and let my mind wander. The people who live there now eat, sleep, and talk amongst ghosts they do not even know exist. The differences between our home and their home are infinite, from the name on the rusted black mailbox and the toothbrushes that line the medicine cabinet to the white paint that covers the sun, moon, and clouds in what was once my room.
Some things remain the same, though. The mesquite tree planted when I was born shades the backyard. Scars from lightning storms decorate its bark, but it is still there, alive and growing. Inside these walls the same concert plays. The vents whisper cool air. A familiar sigh escapes from a particular floorboard in the front room, no matter how gentle the footstep. The lulling sound of the train rocks the windows. The ghosts are constant, too. They drift from room to room, filtering time and keeping record. The past will always remain.
Since we moved six years ago, I have had many homes. My father has taught me the art of change – moving from one place to the next, making plans only to watch them fade into nothingness. But with my mother, our house in the desert is one I can imagine filling with as many ghosts as my first home. While it is not my childhood home, it is the only home my two much younger half-siblings have known. It is the home of my young adulthood. Instead of taking my first steps there, I took my first hesitant drive. The streets of this neighborhood are the ones that I mechanically maneuvered throughout my four years of high school. The bedroom has kept me company through late-night homework assignments and the constant heartache of growing up.
Here I am, now, in a transitory place. I sit in a room that I will never again live in after this school year. I will return to the steady home of my mother and the shifting house of my father this summer knowing I will never live in either again. More than anything, this constant state of temporary has allowed me a release. Transition propels my life forward. It gives me no choice but to face the fact that everything will leave a trace. I am forced to overpower my ghosts.
Yet my ability wavers. Some days I torture myself with detailed recollections, and my ghosts become the only companions I desire. Too often, I allow myself to sink into memory. I let it seep into wherever I am, and my interactions become distracted and half-hearted.
Despite these fluctuations, I am coming to understand that when it comes to the past and its opposite, the future, I do not need to choose one over the other. This is why the present exists; it is a mediator between the two. There is no need to “never look back” – as I have tried and failed to do many times. It would be impossible to gain wisdom without reflecting on the past. Yet the times when I get caught in the past and neglect the future, when I obsess over days that seem happier in retrospect, can stall my progress and take me away from potential productivity.
I don’t berate myself for visiting with my ghosts. Flashbacks are inevitable, and when I’m in a strong state of mind and stay aware of the future, they can even prove helpful. Taking this attitude allows ghosts to become not sad mirages but content ones that encourage movement forward. The challenge is to maintain the harmony between past, present, and future. That’s easier said than done. I struggle with it every day.
Much of life is beyond our control – the speed of time’s passage into the future, for instance – so taking advantage of the “now” is important. I have lived in the past. I used to allow myself to be its victim. Today, and I hope tomorrow, I will keep practicing the ability to control my place in time. Visits to my first home will consist not of forlorn glances, but of grateful ones. My car will slow on the worn street, and I will let the sounds of my haunted house inside. They will be there, my ghosts. I will wave to them, saying neither hello nor good-bye, and I will smile. Then I will continue my afterlife.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.